Physician employment pendulum swings back to independent practice

With a 34 percent increase in physician employment by hospitals since 2000, according to American Hospital Association data analyzed by Medscape Medical News, there's no question that many physicians are embracing the benefits and protection offered by working for a larger entity. However, Uwe Reinhardt, Ph.D., a healthcare economist at Princeton University in New Jersey, describes the trend not so much the wave of the future, but more like a tide that will rise and fall.

"Don't forget, there are cycles," Reinhardt told Medscape. "Some years from now, there will be a whole new trend. Physicians working in hospitals will see what is profitable and what is not, and will jump out and establish practices in the profitable things."

By some indications, the pendulum already may be swinging back toward physician independence, according to an article from Becker's ASC Review. In the article, Richard Kube, M.D., CEO, founder and owner of Prairie Spine and Pain Institute in Peoria, Ill., asserted that some physicians already are moving back to private practice after hospitals have failed to "follow through" on their promises. "There are some doctors who are now very regretful that they ever got involved with the hospital, and they are trying to get out of the hospital system and branch out on their own," he told in Becker's.

Hearing of such disappointments, combined with a deep reluctance among physicians to forgo their independence, also may motivate some private practices to remain steadfast. As infectious-disease physician Manoj Jain recently wrote in The Washington Post, "When a hospital buys out a practice and brings it into the institution's system, it's like Wal-Mart coming into town. Corporate decisions are made about purchasing and staffing, as well as oversight of medical care and quality, all of which impacts a patient's experience when he comes for an office visit."

However, for the time being, the pull toward employment remains strong, Jain acknowledged: "Although pride and self-reliance run deep among private doctors, in the end, I suspect there will be only a few holdouts."

To learn more:
- read the article from the Washington Post
- see the article from Becker's ASC Review
- read the story from Medscape Today